Being the victim of a car accident can be frustrating for multiple reasons, namely when you are both injured and unable to drive your damaged vehicle. While a personal injury attorney may be the best resource to help you navigate presenting a bodily injury claim to the at-fault insurance company, property damage claims are often handled successfully by the accident victim without the help of an attorney.
If you are involved in a car accident, you did not cause the accident, and your vehicle suffered damage as a result of the collision, you may choose to open a Property Damage claim with the at-fault insurance company. An insurance adjuster will be assigned to handle your claim and, so long as you do not hire a lawyer to handle your property damage on your behalf, your main communication regarding your damaged vehicle will be with this adjuster.
The insurance adjuster should get in contact with you after the claim for property damage has been opened to begin the claims process. Their job will be to ensure that your car is repaired for the damages it suffered as a result of the collision. If it cannot be repaired, the adjuster will evaluate the value of your vehicle and you will receive a check from the insurance company for the value of the car.
It is important to have a basic understanding of how the insurance adjuster will evaluate the monetary value and condition of your vehicle after a collision has occurred. First, the adjuster will find out where your car is located. Is it at your home? Was it towed anywhere? Then, he or she will likely commission an estimator to go to the location of the vehicle in order to check its condition and make an estimate for potential repairs. The estimator may try to find any markings on the car that appear to be unrelated to the accident and will take note of these. The estimator may also deem the vehicle to be a total loss based on his evaluation. Either way, the adjuster will use this report to make his or her decision about the value of the car.
The adjuster then must take the time to determine the value of your vehicle immediately before the accident. This value is important both if your car will be repaired and if it is deemed a total loss. The estimated value is based on the value of comparable vehicles in your geographic area, known as the fair market value or the true market value. This figure is determined by looking at actual sales for the area, adjusted for vehicle-specific information that may affect the value. The adjuster will also need to know the condition of your vehicle before the collision – based on the estimator’s assessment of old damage on the car that would diminish the value, as well as if anything has had to be repaired on the vehicle in the past. The latter information can be obtained by looking at vehicle repair records at the repair shop you use to service your car. Further, the adjuster will ask for the mileage at the time of the accident, as high mileage indicates low market value. Finally, if the estimator determines that the cost of potential repairs would be close to or higher than this value of the car, then the car will be considered salvage, or a total loss.
If the estimator finds that the car is repairable, the adjuster will contact the owner of the car to ask where the car should be repaired. Insurance companies often have a list of preferred repair shops that they can offer to you to help make a decision about where to have your vehicle repaired. The goal of these repairs is to bring your car back to its state immediately before the accident occurred. Thus, the insurance company will not pay for any repairs that are unrelated to the accident. If the adjuster deems the car totaled, or a total loss, the insurance company will write you a check for the value of your car, essentially “buying” the damaged vehicle from you.
Note: If you wish to keep your vehicle after it has been declared a total loss, you may request that the insurance company reimburse you for the actual cash value of the car less the salvage value. Essentially, you can buy back the vehicle from the insurance company after it has been declared a total loss. In North Carolina, you will be issued a salvage title for the vehicle, indicating that your vehicle was declared a total loss after an accident.
If you are dissatisfied with the adjuster’s valuation of your vehicle, there are several strategies you can employ to attempt to negotiate with him or her. You may suggest that the “comparable” vehicles that the adjuster used to estimate the value of your car are not actually similar to your car and give explanations as to why. Also, ask the adjuster to average the top five competitors for comparable vehicles instead of using a much larger number. It is recommended that you do your own research on the value of your car as well. Have your car inspected by your own body shop to assess for the cost of repairs, and submit the report of this independent appraiser to the adjuster. In addition, you may ask the adjuster to have a new repair estimate completed.
If you reach a stalemate with the adjuster and feel they are not giving you a fair value for your damaged vehicle, you may consider hiring an attorney to handle the remainder of the property damage claim on your behalf. An attorney that handles car accident cases in North Carolina may be well-suited to stand up for you to the insurance company and get you the compensation for your vehicle that you deserve. To locate a lawyer in your area, use our Lawyer Locator.